The value in the shadows
If only the sun-drenched celebrities are being noticed and worshiped,
then our children are going to have a tough time seeing the value in the shadows,
where the thinkers, probers, and scientists are keeping society together.
Rita Dove, poet (b. 28 Aug 1952)
You may, like me, feel that shadows are already dulling the political skies over much of the world. How has democracy led us to an American election where the only alternative to sanity is Trump? What has made it possible for the President of the foremost nation to run a programme for his second term consisting entirely of a cast of his own family? How can a case of ‘whatever I do will be right’ be seriously considered by an educated electorate?
Good people like Dr Anthony Fauci came to help when the pandemic struck. All of them, Dr Fauci included, were treated appallingly. Disinfectant was offered in his place. We wanted a President of courage, but not that kind. We wanted people of diplomatic integrity to steer us through the disputes of the South China Sea, of trade, of intellectual property, of Hong Kong and, eventually, of Taiwan. We got Pompeo, who now considers himself ready for the Top Job.
We have looked for leaders and found them sadly absent. Good people, without question, have been promoted. But not good leaders. The roll call of acclaim has been one of glitteratti and hype. Sensible and serious thought at the top, even for the short-term, has given way to opportunism. The long-term has been disregarded to the point where we now wonder if the planet and the human species can survive at all. Well, I wonder it, and perhaps you do, too.
But the world has not suddenly lost its thinkers, probers and scientists. On the contrary, they have been growing in number and expertise. We have multiples of great minds today compared to when I was born. Mathematical and scientific lore is questioned and developed by my grandchildren and I am certain your family is no less advanced than mine. Amazing work is being done to provide a vaccine against the coronavirus. Medicine generally is moving ever closer to prevention rather than cure. In time it will give us immortality of one sort or another.
So what is lacking that allows all this progress to be made in every sphere except leadership?
All scientific and technological progress is designed to help us fulfil a purpose but we have lost sight of the purpose. We are now so specialised that we see our purpose as making more money, being more efficient, reaching where we are going faster, living longer, having more holidays, experiencing drug-induced ‘highs’ more frequently. The old goals propounded by religions, and with them the heavens we all believed in, no longer have the appeal they did for many. And the rules attached to them no longer have the force they did.
In their place is a void. We have lost one purpose and not found another. The concept of a worldly paradise seems too far-fetched – even though our earlier beliefs were even more ambitious. When you lose purpose you lose your fundamental driver. All leaders know that. Purpose is the flagstaff of leadership. What today’s leaders have failed to realize is that they are responsible to propose the new purpose, not to wait for it to emerge. Potential leaders are waiting for their purpose. They have not realised that they must propose it.
There is much study of the mind and the emotions, of the brain and the senses, of feelings. But where is the study of purpose? Of course, there is literature on the value of having one. And there is plenty of evidence that those with purpose achieve more than those without, although it would seem almost axiomatic. And a plethora of writings on how to find your purpose in life. But no clue as to how to find a purpose for the human race.
Perhaps some of the people working in the shadows could devote time to formulating a new purpose for humankind.
Most of them have the prime requirement for doing so.
Because most of them are humble.